Mercedes march on to third successive victory

2019-04-17 06:01

FOR all the hype that surrounded the 1 000th Grand Prix event, the Chinese Grand Prix didn’t underscore it in the way many would have hoped for.

For the seventh time in his career, Valtteri Bottas lined up in pole position alongside teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari locked out the second row of the grid with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc respectively.

Bottas’ sojourn at the front was short-lived though, as Hamilton steamed into the lead as soon as the red lights went out.

Behind, Leclerc got the better of Vettel into the ever tightening turn one but neither Ferrari seemed able to keep in touch with the Mercedes pair, which were steadily disappearing up the road.

The opening stint of the race suggested that Vettel had a dash more speed than Leclerc and Ferrari agreed, as they ordered the Monegasque driver to let his teammate through.

Ferrari’s decision to employ team orders was met with displeasure not only by fans but also by Leclerc himself who voiced his annoyance on the radio.

This marks the third time in three races that Ferrari has issued team orders and it was only Leclerc’s choice to ignore the call in Bahrain that meant they weren’t instituted on that occasion.

Ferrari will have their reasons for issuing team orders this early in the season. But it’s unlikely that many would agree with or accept those reasons.

What it is indicative of is that Ferrari still has not learned from past mistakes.

In the days of Michael Schumacher, team orders worked a treat for Ferrari, but then they had the quickest car by a country mile.

That certainly isn’t the case now and they need to understand that attempting to fight for a championship with one car is not a winning strategy. They will calm things down with Leclerc but for how long will it suffice before it starts affecting his morale?

Strategic decision-making has been one of Ferrari’s most glaring weaknesses over a number of years and what we’ve seen so far in 2019 is that they have not done anything to address or rectify this.

It’s the polar opposite at Mercedes as they secured a third one-two victory in as many races. Hamilton led easily from teammate Bottas, who in turn matched the race leader’s pace without facing any real threat from Vettel in third.

What is absolute fact, so far in 2019, is that Mercedes’ W10 is the quicker car for now.

But it isn’t the only area in which Mercedes is head and shoulders above their closest rivals. If you were to look for a tangible example of the organisational excellence and strategic brilliance of this team, then you need not look further than lap 37 of the Chinese Grand Prix.

The pit crew turned around both Hamilton and Bottas within seconds of each other and it was seamless brilliance.

What’s more it was a message, a statement of intent, that if Mercedes are to be beaten in 2019 then it will require near perfection from that team.

While Merc strolled to the chequered flag and Vettel salvaged third for Ferrari, Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull and never in contention for the podium.

Ferrari’s dubious strategy meant Leclerc eventually finished fifth with Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull significantly adrift in sixth.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo scored his first points of the season in seventh, with Sergio Perez in eighth for Racing Point.

Kimi Raikkonen maintained his and Alfa Romeo’s run of finishing in the top 10 in 2019 with a ninth place finish, but the driver of the day goes to Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon.

The Thai driver was forced to start from the pitlane after a 49G crash in the final practice session precipitated a change of chassis.

Albon drove remarkably well to go from the pitlane to 10th place by the time the chequered flag dropped.

With two wins from three races, Hamilton holds a four-point lead over Bottas in the driver’s standings.

More importantly, the gap to Vettel and Leclerc already stands at 31 and 32 points respectively.

It might only be three races into the season, but if Ferrari has any designs on trying to win either title in 2019 they must address their glaring weaknesses soon and it has to start with their decision-making.

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